Spelling Bee

Missoula seventh-grader Reagan Remmers, 12, purses her lips after the judges initially told her she had spelled her word incorrectly during Round 3 of the Scripps National Spelling Bee — a decision they later reversed.

Reagan Remmers of Missoula didn't make it to the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. But she still made a bit of history.

Remmers, 12, was walking out of the hall Wednesday with her mom after misspelling the word "balaclava'' when Aubrey Remmers' cellphone rang. "I almost didn't answer because it was an Ohio number,'' Aubrey Remmers said. But then she thought, "what if it's the Bee?''

It was. And they were calling to say that Reagan had been reinstated — only the fifth speller to be restored to the competition after an apparent misspelling in the last 20 years.

Reagan's spelling — balaklava — was correct for the city in the Ukraine, but not correct for the garment that covers the head, neck and most of the face, which is spelled balaclava. But because the judges didn't define the word for Reagan, they decided to accept her spelling after she had left the stage.

Remmers said her daughter, a seventh-grader at Target Range School, was watching her face when she was on the phone. When her mom told her the news, "She said, 'Oh, sweet!' and she literally ran back into the auditorium,'' her mother said.

Reagan and Aidan Veress, an eighth-grader from Gardiner Public Schools in Park County, will both come home to Montana with bragging rights that they made it through Round 3 of the national bee, which brought 519 spellers to Maryland to compete.

Aidan won the Treasure State title, which automatically qualified him for the national event, his second appearance there. He correctly spelled "hypochondria" and "plangent'' in Rounds 2 and 3. But both he and Reagan, who correctly spelled "nectarivorous'' in Round 2, were not among the 41 finalists based on their scores in the Round 1 test of spelling and vocabulary.

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The third Montanan to make the national contest, Karrissa Zanett, a 15-year-old home-schooled student from Big Fork, was eliminated in Round 2 when she misspelled "flechette.''

Reagan took second in the state contest, but she and Karrissa were invited to the national bee as part of a new Scripps Howard initiative designed to "level the playing field,'' Bee spokesperson Valerie Miller told USA Today.

Some regional competitions are dominated, year after year, by the same winner. And some states, such as Montana, sent only one winner to the nationals while others, like Ohio, sent 18. So this year, Scripps Howard created an "invitational'' category that added 238 additional spellers to the national competition, bringing the total to a record-setting 516.

Aubrey Remmers said she and her daughter were planning to decompress Thursday by taking a tour of the Capitol. Reagan may take a month off when she gets back to Missoula. But then the three-time Missoula County spelling bee champion will once again hit the books.

After all, she has a family tradition to uphold. Reagan's aunt, Claire Hinther, was a county spelling bee champion, but also made it to the finals for the National Geographic Bee. She was one of only four young women among the 52 competitors in the geography contest.

Reagan is interested in geography, too. But her mother noted that Reagan "is only a seventh-grader, so she hopes she will be back'' for the national spelling bee next year.

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